So, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
People aren’t going to church as much as they used to. I could give you the statistics, but I don’t think that I need to because you’ve probably personally observed or experienced it yourself. You may have seen it with your own family members, your co-workers, your friends, in the conversations you have or just a general sense of people not being all that interested in church. Why is that? Polling and data have pointed to a number of factors: society, technology, rejection of organized religion, church conflicts and coverups. So, what do you say when you hear, I don’t go to church because… fill in the blank? HOW do you respond? DO you respond? SHOULD you respond? I think that it’s easy to react in one of two ways. First is FRUSTRATION, especially if church has been a part of your life for a very long time, something that you appreciate and is important to you. Why don’t people get how important this is for them! The second reaction is one of APATHY, hopefully something will change. There’s not much I can do about it. Neither frustration nor apathy are helpful or loving. Today, I’m going to look at some of the reasons that people give for not coming or no longer coming to church. We’re going to look at these reasons NOT to prove that we’re better than others, but to improve our understanding of why they’re not coming and be better equipped to lovingly respond to the people that God brings into our lives.
You’ve probably heard this one; you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. Like many of the reasons, there’s usually some truth mixed in with some misunderstanding. There are really two fundamental misunderstandings in this reason. First, there’s a misunderstanding of what a CHRISTIAN is. Secondly, there’s a misunderstanding of what CHURCH is.
So, let me ask you? What is a Christian? That was something that the people of Jesus’ day struggled with as much as people do today. There were those in Jesus’ day who thought that being a physical descendant of Abraham, AKA a Jew, was what made them what we would call “a Christian,” someone who was going to heaven. They looked to the Bible to guide certain parts of their faith, but conveniently ignored other parts of the Bible when it didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear or wanted to do. Jesus’ words in John 8 are clear, aren’t they? If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31,32).
Being a Christian is being a disciple of Jesus. And what does Jesus say His disciples do? A disciple of Jesus holds onto Christ and His teaching. They hold onto what the Bible says as true and trustworthy.
The Bible reveals the truth about us, life, death and what happens after it. It reveals some pretty hard things for us to swallow at times. It begins by showing us the truth about ourselves, a truth that isn’t so pretty. It reveals our sins and how far short we have fallen of being what God demands of us. It reveals the truth that our sin has so destroyed our relationship with God, that it’s beyond our most noble attempts to repair it on own. If left on our own, we’d most certainly die, because it means being separated from God and His blessings.
But the Bible reveals the truth about God and what He was willing to do to repair our relationship with Him. It tells us that God’s own Son Jesus, came into our world to live for us and die at the cross for us, taking the full punishment for our sin, dying in our place. It tells how Jesus overcame death, coming back to life to assure you that what God demands of you for heaven, Jesus has already done, for you. It tells us that forgiveness of sins and life in heaven is God’s gift to all those who trust in Jesus, who believe that what the Bible says about Jesus is true. The Bible proclaims that we’re free! We’re free from the guilt of our sin! We’re free to live our lives in gratefulness to a God who has given us all we need to receive His eternal blessing.
These are the truths of the Bible that Christians hold onto, the truths that we depend on for our eternal life with God. But Jesus doesn’t intend for faith to stop there, to only hold onto those teachings. He wants us to hold onto all of His teaching. That means holding onto Jesus not just for our eternal life, but also holding onto Jesus for our daily lives.
Too often people want to distance themselves with what Jesus says concerning eternal life from what Jesus says about our daily lives. It’s almost as if while Jesus can be trusted with my soul’s eternal salvation but can’t be depended on when it comes to my daily life. Really?
So, let me get this right, you’ll trust Jesus for something as large as eternity, but He can’t be trusted with the other things in your life? That’s like saying to the babysitter, I trust you to take care of my child, but don’t do the laundry because I’m not sure if you can be trusted with that. Being a Christian means that I trust Jesus with my whole life. And what does Jesus say that He wants His disciples, Christians like you and me to do?
Hebrews says: and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24,25).
This is where that second misunderstanding comes in when someone says, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. What is church? Church is more than a building or by-laws. Church is a “meeting together” literally, “an assembly, a gathering, a congregation” of Christians. Church is a gathering of people who are disciples of Christ. Jesus says that He wants Christians to assemble, gather and congregate with one another. Why? Jesus doesn’t really have to tell us. Him telling us to do it and promising it’s good for us should be enough, but in these verses He explains why.
It begins in Hebrews 10:23, let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). Jesus wants us to hold onto the hope that His Word provides for us, but He knows that can be hard. Sometimes holding onto those promises can feel like a running back trying to hold onto the ball while a 350-pound linemen and linebackers are trying to rip away that football. We’re trying to hold onto to what God promises, trying hard not to be tackled by sin, but it’s difficult. God promises to help us through and what does He give to help us? He gives us church, each other, fellow Christians for, encouraging one another. The church is a place where people from all walks of life and with their individual struggles come together. We come to place our sins in the same place, at the feet of our Savior Jesus. Jesus gives us all the same announcement, forgiven and free. Together we’re strengthened to live as God’s forgiven people, to be His disciples, and to hold onto His teaching. Simply put, Jesus tells us to be there, to be there to receive encouragement, and to be there for one another, to give encouragement to our fellow Christians as we walk together in faith.
These assemblies, gatherings, congregations of Christians that we call church are something that God values so highly that He gives people to provide spiritual care and oversight of them. In Ephesians 4 we’re told, so Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Christ has given us pastors, literally, “shepherds.” Well, maybe you can think of it like this. If someone told you that they were a shepherd, you might ask how many sheep they have. If they said they don’t have any sheep, you might have to break the bad news that they’re not really a shepherd. In order to be a shepherd, you need to have sheep.
Since Jesus gives pastors, what does that mean? It means that Jesus wants us to gather into flocks of Christians, churches, where a pastor or shepherd can provide spiritual care. If that wasn’t God’s intentions, then there would be no purpose in God giving pastors.
But God did give pastors which shows that Jesus does want every Christian to be part of a church with a personal pastor. I say personal pastor because sometimes people think that the TV or internet pastor can replace their need for going to church. If you’re not physically able to come to church that’s one thing. But it’s another thing if able and choose not to. The pastor on TV or the internet can certainly preach and teach God’s Word, but there are things he won’t be able to do. He can’t give you the Lord’s Supper or baptize your child. He can’t visit you when you’re in the hospital, pray with you and comfort you with God’s Word. He can’t counsel you when you’re struggling with something or have a conversation with you before or after church to provide Christian encouragement.
You see, Church is God’s gift to His people. Church is where disciples of Jesus gather and Jesus Himself comes to meet with them through His Word and Sacraments. It’s where Christ strengthens the faith of His people as God-given pastors guide them in His Word, go after them when they swerve into sin, announce God’s forgiveness and comfort with God’s promises. It’s where Christ prepares future generations of Christians through the study of His Word which is provided in Christian schools, Sunday schools, Catechism classes and Bible study. Church is where Christ wants His people to be, together being encouraging and encouraging others to hold onto Christ Jesus and His teaching, for their blessing both now and for eternity. Amen.